In our Regency Promenade today, Nancy Mayer looks at Maria Edgeworth, a prolific writer of adults’ and children’s literature who held advanced views on estate management, politics and education.
Maria Edgeworth by John Downman 1807
Maria Edgeworth 1767-1849
“As a woman, my life, wholly domestic, can offer nothing
of interest to the public.” Maria
Maria Edgeworth was one of three children born to her father’s first, and least loved, wife.
Richard Edgeworth had four wives and twenty-one children. He had a large estate in Ireland. He experimented with education, using his children as subjects. Maria adored her father.
He brought her home from school when she was sixteen and set her as an assistant teacher to her siblings.
Maria’s family knew her as a warm, practical, volatile, loving person.
She became agitated over little upsets but was calm and efficient in major upheavals; she scoffed at the use of the supernatural and overly comic in books but enjoyed reading about them with her family.
She accepted her father’s philosophy of utilitarianinism and incorporated its lessons in her stories for children.
Miniature of Maria Edgeworth by Adam Buck c1790
She believed that a woman’s best profession was that of wife and mother, but never married.
She considered herself a critic of the feminist movement of Wollstonecraft and Mary Hays, but her writings mark her as a closet feminist; she also demonstrated an interest and competence in “masculine subjects” such as science, accounting, and logic.
At first, Maria wrote her books in collaboration or with the suggestion of her father. However with Letters for Literary Ladies and Castle Rackrent she wrote both of them without the knowledge of her father.
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